Within the realm of healthcare documentation integrity and information governance, few issues loom larger than the escalating threats to the security of personally identifiable information. Massive amounts of medical and other personal information stored electronically in centralized virtual and/or geographical locations are simply too tempting a target for identify thieves to resist. In recent years there has been a steady rise in the number of individuals whose confidential health and other personal information has been stolen or otherwise improperly accessed. The consequences of these thefts and intrusions range from relatively benign to catastrophic in nature, involving billions of dollars in lost assets, investigation and remediation expenses, and efforts to thwart future cyber attacks. The Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI) is fully engaged in efforts to identify and understand potential threats to confidential information and to provide information and resources to members, other healthcare entities, and to the general public to promote cybersecurity best practices.
In the process of seeking out information regarding this very serious issue, occasionally one may stumble across examples of identity theft with elements of oddity, weirdness and even humor. I recently encountered a compilation of such cases which had been presented at an International Conference on Information Security and Artificial Intelligence. The author of "10 Crazy Cases of Identity Theft" is unnamed, otherwise I would love to give credit where credit is due. But at least I can share just a few of the out-of-the-ordinary examples of identity theft unearthed by this unknown writer.
SEE ALSO: 3 Lessons US Hospitals Can Learn from UK Hospital Malware Attacks
The Cheerleader Mom
In Green Bay, Wis., the mother of a teenaged cheerleader living in Nevada used her own daughter's identity to enroll in a Green Bay high school and join the cheerleading squad. According to the local district attorney, Wendy Brown wanted to relive her childhood dreams of being a cheerleader, so she took advantage of the fact that her daughter resided in another state to steal the teen's identity. School officials evidently became suspicious after Brown, despite partying with high school students, never showed up for classes after attending the first day of school.
The $10,000 Baby Bill
In a case of medical identity theft, Anndorie Sachs had her driver's license stolen by a pregnant woman who then delivered her baby at a local hospital using Sachs' identity. The imposter took her baby and ran, so to speak, leaving Sachs with a $10,000 hospital bill.
The Fake Facebook Profile
This one is a bit convoluted, so you'll need to pay close attention. In Johnston County, N.C., 21-year-old Rebecca Nakutis created a fake Facebook page under the name of Chrystal Trammell, a recent college grad and single mom. Trammell also happened to be involved in a child custody dispute with -- wait for it -- Nakutis' husband! Court records alleged that Nakutis sent threatening messages to herself, her mother and friends from the fake Facebook page she had created under Trammell's name. Nakutis then used these Facebook messages -- ostensibly from Trammell but actually created by Nakutis herself -- to eventually get a restraining order issued which prevented Trammell from seeing her own child, fathered by Nakutis' husband. It took months before Trammell discovered the phony Facebook page which had been used to trump up the false harassment charges against her. In the end, Nakutis was arrested for identity theft and the restraining order against Trammell was dropped.
Here's My Social Security Number -- Oh, Wait
What better example of identity theft to finish up with than the ironic case of LifeLock CEO Todd Davis? For years, LifeLock advertised its identity theft prevention services by displaying Davis' Social Security number on billboards, buses and other highly visible media. As it turned out, in spite of LifeLock's vaunted identity protection, thieves used Davis' Social Security number to take out a $500 personal loan, open a cell phone account and obtain various other forms of credit. To add insult to injury, the Federal Trade Commission eventually fined LifeLock $12 million for engaging in false advertising.
As these examples amply prove, no one is immune from identity theft, medical or otherwise. However, vigilance on the part of individuals as well as healthcare documentation professionals handling personally identifiable information every day can certainly provide a level of protection which in many cases may prevent identity theft from ever happening. Our association and many other organizations are committed to identifying and promoting best practices to assist healthcare providers in developing information governance policies and procedures which provide the maximum degree of protection against medical identity theft.
Jay Vance is a Certified Medical Transcriptionist, Certified HIPAA Professional, and an AHDI Fellow. He is the Immediate Past President of AHDI and currently holds the position of Vice President of Operations for WahlScribe, LLC, a healthcare information services company based in Des Moines, IA.